Once upon a time workplace flexibility was only found in the lunchtime yoga class. Now, flexible work arrangements are playing an increasingly important role in modern workplaces.
However, while many organisations have ad-hoc flexible work arrangements, only 7% of Australian workplaces have a strategy in place. Clearly we have a long way to go before the benefits of flexible work can impact the majority of employees and organisations.
Many organisations believe that flexible work arrangements aren’t appropriate for their business or are too hard to implement. So it’s encouraging to see organisations that embrace workplace flexibility can reap a variety of benefits.
Productivity gains and cost savings
Leaders at UniSuper found that promoting flexibility led to benefits in terms of employee performance and retention.
‘They get the best out of me, and I would not be in the workforce without flexible work arrangements’ said the Market Research Manager.
As a high achiever, she was recently head-hunted by another business, but did not feel that other workplaces would be as supportive of her work-life balance.
Some UniSuper employees have found working on large projects away from the office has improved their productivity. They benefit from less workplace-related interruptions and as the Market Research Manager explains: ‘I am more efficient when working at home, as I am in control’.
The leadership team at UniSuper are recognising that the business won’t suffer as a result. In the words of one UniSuper manager: ‘We are not blowing up the business for one person to work flexibly’.
While many customer service organisations see today’s ‘open all hours trading’ as a barrier to flexible work arrangements, leaders at Teachers Health Fund Health Centre in Melbourne see them as a solution. For them it makes a full-time employee’s 37.5-hour work week compatible with the Centre’s 48-hour trading week. This brings considerable savings in terms of the HR costs of hiring casual staff.
Research shows that morale and productivity can be increased in more flexible workplaces, reducing absenteeism and staff turnover. These gains have been measured in interesting ways at Marque Lawyers. They are proud that 17 babies have been born to employees since the firm was established seven years ago and that all of those employees returned to work and are still there today.
Preserving organisational knowledge
Preservation of organisational knowledge and experience are also benefits of flexible work arrangements reducing staff turnover. The lack of staff turnover seen at Marque Lawyers ensures employees with a deep knowledge of the organisation stay in the business.
In the case of Teachers Health Fund, flexible work arrangements allow management to preserve and fully utilise its organisational knowledge by ensuring that knowledgeable experienced employees run the facility during all opening hours.
Building trust and employee engagement
A common theme in all the cases was the need for a culture of trust at every level of the organisation for flexible work arrangements to succeed. ‘Trust each other to deliver’ is one of the five new values Telstra announced in 2013. Leaders were asked to take a ‘leap of faith’ that a flexible workforce would be better for the business and to trust that in an outcomes-focused environment people will make the right decisions for the business and their individual needs. Telstra has reaped benefits from this culture shift, with increased engagement of employees working flexibly to the Global Performance norm (84 points).
Recognition of the importance of trust flowing up and down the organisation stands out at Teachers Health Fund. The policies, practices, and overall culture help employees to develop a sense of trust in their leadership. The Practice Manager is prepared to adjust and adapt schedules to ensure the best outcome for staff, but management is similarly able to trust employees to keep the client and the organisation in mind. This culture of trust means that employees don’t feel ostracised if they request to work flexibly.
‘You don’t get penalised if you work flexibly’, notes the Optical Dispenser.
For one UniSuper manager it’s often his part-time employees who are most engaged and ‘head down, bum up at work’.
Flexible work arrangements are an essential ingredient for organisations seeking to achieve gender equality in the workplace. As the WGEA’s Equilibrium challenge shows, such arrangements can benefit a range of workers – even men. All the cases support the claim that better results in terms of gender equality are the most obvious benefits of flexible work arrangements.
Marque Lawyers have succeeded in making impressive gains in achieving gender equality, creating a workplace where 70% of all employees and 55% of partners are female. These figures are significantly higher than those of their law firm peers.
Telstra found flexible work arrangements positively impacted their workplace gender equality, with an increased representation of female recruits, women in management and number of male managers taking primary parental leave.
Flexibility – worth the work
‘It’s about results and getting it done. I don’t need a policy to tell me how to behave’ – Enjel Phoon, partner at Marque Lawyers
All the cases demonstrate that flexibility is context specific. What works for one organisation may not work for another, and individuals within organisations may benefit from different arrangements.
Overall, it’s the organisations that build trust, focus on outcomes and take the leap into a culture of flexible work that are reaping the rewards.
Want to find out more about flexible work arrangements? The Making Flexibility Work project page has more information, including our four case studies, as well as resources to get you started.